I have yet to visit Hawaii, though I’d love to someday. Between the volcanic landscapes, lush rainforests, and magnificent waterfalls—not to mention the truly unique culture and food—the islands have piqued my interest for many years. Traditional Hawaiian cuisine is a compelling fusion of tropical Polynesian and Asian flavors with a signature flair that entices me all on its own.
Plus, I want to see if the aloha lifestyle is truly as instilled into the culture as I’ve heard.
The word aloha can be translated many ways. Though it’s often meant as a simple greeting, it also holds deeper cultural and spiritual significance, especially among native Hawaiians. Aloha means hello and farewell, but it likewise conveys love, peace, and compassion.
This oxtail soup embodies what I think of as aloha in numerous ways. I think it’s a perfect dish to enjoy as we bid farewell to late winter and welcome early spring, a time of transition when the weather isn’t quite cold or stormy enough to crave dense comfort food, yet the air is still chill and damp enough to warrant a desire for comfort. It also provides delicious, wholesome nourishment—aka love—for the body and soul.
Oxtails are truly therapeutic. Due to their high cartilage content, they are incredibly rich in collagen and gelatin. Oxtails also make a superb, velvety broth that provides loads of magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. These minerals are powerhouses for preventative health in times of cold, flus, and viruses. Pair oxtails with the healing properties of ginger and cruciferous greens, then infuse it with depths of flavor from some interesting ingredients, and you’ve got yourself a delicious tonic that is as delectable as it is medicinal.
I like to make this soup in my slow cooker, mostly out of ease but also because I love to have something slowly bubbling away all day. But for time’s sake, feel free to simmer it on the stovetop. Either way, plan ahead. Oxtails are a tough cut of meat, and it takes ample time to break down the connective tissue until it becomes tender and palatable.
I prefer to make it overnight or even the day before and then refrigerate it. The extra time not only amounts to a more pronounced depth of flavor, but it’s also easier to skim off the excess fat (there will be a lot) when it’s straight from the fridge rather than hot. And then all that’s left to do for dinner is to reheat the soup.
Another way to eliminate excess fat is to parboil the oxtail for 30 minutes. Drain it, cut off the excess fat from the edges, and cover it with fresh water. However, I usually skip this step, especially when I’m preparing the soup in advance.
Hawaiian Oxtail Soup
Makes approximately 4 hearty servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 4–5 hours on stovetop or 8–10 hours in a slow cooker
2–3 lbs. oxtails
2 star anise (my favorite source is from Starwest Botanicals)
1- to 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
2 strips orange peel
1 teaspoon peppercorns
6 cloves garlic, left whole, skin on
½ cup raw (most traditional) or roasted, unsalted peanuts
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 bunch cilantro stems (set aside the leaves for garnish)
4 scallions (green onions), cut in 4-inch lengths, plus more thinly sliced scallions for garnish
2–3 quarts water
1 large bunch (about 3–4 cups) mustard greens, chopped
- Place oxtail in a large slow cooker or pot. Add star anise, ginger, orange peel, peppercorns, garlic cloves, peanuts, chili flakes, cilantro stems, and scallions. (Set aside cilantro leaves and thinly sliced scallions for garnish.) Cover with approximately 2–3 quarts water. If using stovetop: Simmer until tender, about 4–5 hours. If using slow cooker: cook on low for 8–10 hours. Drain and let oxtail cool slightly. Trim excess fat, if there is any. Discard all solids besides the oxtails. Skim fat from broth. (Before skimming fat, I chill my broth in a bowl set in ice water in my sink. It takes about 15 minutes, but it makes the process much easier than doing it while hot.)
- Place broth in pot. Add oxtail and greens. Heat through on the stovetop until greens wilt. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to your taste.
- Divide oxtail among bowls, add greens, and pour the broth over top. Garnish with cilantro leaves and thinly sliced scallions.
Image from Briana Goodall.